102: How Traditional Sales Reps Are Transitioning to Digital, with David Little

300 salespeople from a telecom Transitioning to Digital to become trusted local marketing experts and drive the company’s growth in a competitive industry.

This week George talks with sales innovator David Little, who was recently promoted to SVP of Enterprise Sales at Comporium Communications, a telecom company with over 300 salespeople providing television, internet, and home security solutions in South Carolina. Listen as they dive into what has allowed his sales teams to make the transition to become trusted local marketing experts and drive his company’s growth in an extremely competitive industry.

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George: This week we sit down with David Little, the Senior Vice President of Enterprise Sales for the Comporium Corporation. Comporium Communications is a local television, internet, cable and home security provider that operates in York and Lancaster counties in the north-central section of South Carolina. Mr. David Little, talking about sales transformation coming up next. Oh, and the secret sauce that’s motivating his sales teams of over 300. That’s all coming up next on the Conquer Local Podcast.

When we started crafting the idea for the Conquer Local Podcast, I was thinking about who’s going to be my first guest, and it really wasn’t much of a competition. There’s one gentleman that I have known as a sales innovator over the past five years and had the privilege of meeting him five years ago. He’s coming to us today from Rock Hill, South Carolina. He is the Senior Vice President of Enterprise Sales. Ladies and gentlemen welcome to the Conquer Local Podcast, Mr. David Little.

David: Thanks, George. Happy to be here.

George: David, you and I met when you were running digital revenue and you were transitioning a yellow page organization to sell digital. Toughest gig out there to transition. There’s no business that has been disrupted by search more than the yellow pages. And, you know, when you think about it in the good old days when you would start a business, you’d connect your phone line. The company that connected your phone line owned this thing called the yellow pages. So they had you right at the very beginning of the sales process and I’ve sold against yellow pages my entire life.

Not sure that I necessarily liked very many people in the yellow pages because they got a big chunk of the budget all the time. And then I met David, and I like him a lot because what David was doing was transitioning traditional to digital. Because it was really easy, you just ran an ad in the yellow pages, and the phone would ring and the door would swing. The phone would ring and the door would swing. Isn’t that the way it went?

David: Yeah, that’s a pretty good analogy, George. I would like to say it was that easy. But, you know, the landscape we came from, we were a tailcoat but we were always in a competitive market. But you’re right. People needed their telephone number and a phone book, and we were there to connect them up. And so it was a great gig while it lasted.

George: Well, I want everybody on the Conquer Local Podcast that’s listening to understand that David and I started our careers as both guys with a bag. And in the original edition, the pilot of the Conquer Local Podcast, we were trying to help the guys and gals with a bag transition into something better. A higher evolution of the salesperson, or a revolution of the salesperson.
So, David, you went into market in the yellow page business, you would go in the market, you would see all the clients in the market. I think you called it a campaign. What did you call it when you went into market?

David: Yeah, you’re exactly right, George. We called them campaigns. And so, you know, we would work with advertisers once a year in market. We worked in about 25 different markets across the U.S. And what really has started my career in the advertising business was going door to door, traveling all over the U.S., working with small businesses and consulting with them on their ads, what kind of content they needed in the ads and what kind of placement they wanted. It was pretty fun. You got to learn a lot of different industries. You didn’t feel like you were stuck in one kind of vertical. And we just traveled around the country and went door to door.

George: David, did you ever make a sale with a one-sheeter?

David: I made a lot of sales with one-sheeters. That’s basically what we had. We had a one-sheeter and we had a phone book in our hand. And we went out and we did our product dump, as you say, on the customer and tried to do the best we could to get them in the best representation and move on to the next one.

George: Well, we’ve all dumped on our customers from one time or another, David, with products, just unloaded on them. Here’s some more products! It is the salesperson that turns himself into a consultant that does constant learning, they are the ones that are going to be winning. And we’re seeing them win today and we could see them winning into the future. But that isn’t easy either.

David: Yeah, you’re absolutely right. With so many different, I guess services available to small businesses today and listening to your earlier podcast this week, you know, 28 to 30 different digital players calling businesses, trying to secure revenue and opportunities from them. And it really does come down to who they trust, who’s bringing value to the table, who’s helping them, not just in their marketing but really anything that you can do to help small business. It really comes back to relationship. We always talk about relationship is key, but today there’s just so many players in the field that customers have to choose and the people with the best relationships bring the most value to the table are the winners.

George: That’s interesting, David. A couple of times this week, I’ve been reminded about how important relationships are because I’ve got two phone calls this week from people that I’ve been working with over the last five years. And the message on the other end of the phone was something like this, “I have moved to a new organization and I want to bring you with me. We’ve had a great relationship and I really value what you bring to the table. So I’d like to bring you and your solutions along with me.” So it really speaks to that relationship being very, very important in the sales process.

Let’s talk about your situation. You know, you’ve done such a great job in getting digital revenue to outgrow the traditional revenue. And now you have that growing line of digital business year after year. Your boss, John Barnes, is one of the owners of the Comporium Company, noticed Mr. David Little and the great work that he was doing, and he walked into your office one day and said, “David, we want you to do something bigger.” Let’s talk a little bit about that new title. And let’s talk a little bit about your new role with the company.

David: Okay. John Barnes, my boss, as you mentioned, tapped me and said, “Hey, we want to learn how we can expand in more of our competitive markets because the communications broadband industry has become a lot more competitive over the last 10 years than it probably has been in the last 100 years.”

And so I took over all the sales groups within the Comporium footprints and we started applying some of those same tactics that we used in the digital media area for how do we go after a customer, how do we interact with customers, our sales processes. It’s been a fun ride so far, it’s been great to learn a new technology and look at how we can crossover our portfolios of business services with our digital marketing services.

George: David, it’s really interesting to me. I think that what you’re talking about is going full stack. So you’ve got salespeople, and you look at it as one total headcount. You’ve got all of these people that are able to talk to customers. And I’ve got these things that I need to deliver to those customers, why don’t I teach the reps to bring other things into the conversation?

So it makes a lot of sense from where Comporium is sitting because you’ve got reps that are selling business services, phone services. You’re selling VoIP phone systems, you’re selling cloud data storage solutions. It makes sense that when they are having a conversation with a customer about that, that they might be able to layer on digital marketing services because it’s all part of helping that business person be successful. It makes a lot of sense.

David: Yeah, for a lot of years, you know, we had two different sales channels that were running parallel to each other. We did really good at passing leads back and forth. Especially during the directory days. But as everything has changed with technology, not just on the marketing side but also on our business service offerings that we have, we’ve been looking for more ways, as you say, to be able to help that customer with all things that they need to run their business.

So we like to take it from the approach now of, “We’re gonna do the marketing on the front end that’s gonna drive the leads to you, but we want to also make sure we’re providing you the services on the back end to make sure you can connect with those customers first.” So whether it’s using voice over IP technology, using call centers that can track you down when you’re out in the field and deliver it to your mobile device. We want to make sure that when we generate a lead, you’re able to connect with that customer. And so it just really makes good sense that the customer understands, I guess, the story that we’re trying to tell.

George: Well, there’s gonna be some issues there, David. I’m sure you’re already dealing with them. You’ve got sales people that are used to doing one thing and you’re asking them to change and we all know that people sometimes are resistant to change. So, what are you gonna do? You’ve got to get those reps to understand that they now have other solutions that they can provide to that customer. I’m really interested to see what tactics you’re going to take to get them to do that new thing.

David: Well, that’s a very good point, George. As you know, working in the media space, converting traditional media salespeople over to digital marketers, brings its own set of challenges that I think everybody that has gone down that path started that journey faces. The good thing is, I’ve been down that road and I’ve already faced that. And we’ve kind of come out on the other side. And being able to take some of those same lessons that we’ve learned, apply them over to our business services group, same thing though, our media services group has got to understand a lot of what our business services have done in the past also.

But it really comes down to technology. It comes down to utilizing the tools that we have through e-learning, through doing sales training, utilizing presentation materials. You’ve got to really show the sales reps that you have the ability to support them in that and then you got to hold them accountable to it.

George: Well, David, you and I have talked a lot about this, you are big on giving responsibility and then measuring and holding that person accountable to that responsibility you’ve provided. What are some of the management techniques that you’ve deployed inside your organization? One on ones, quarterly reviews, what are some of the things that you’re doing that you think is the secret sauce to making your front line sales managers more effective?

David: Well, in sales we hear all the time, “It’s always about the numbers.” Right? But it is getting in front of those numbers. You know, a lot of times we put goals and we put numbers out there and then we review them once a month with our sales management group or with our sales team. And it really comes down to dailies. You know, one thing I learned in visiting within Vendasta, and George, your team, over the last several years is incorporating those daily stand ups. Right? So it’s, what did you do yesterday and what are you planning on doing today? And continue to follow that through.

I think it gives the sales reps a feeling over time we’re really having support from management. So management is there to understand where the gaps are and to be able to try to help your people bridge those gaps with whatever it may be. Then it becomes more of a team effort, it’s not just a solo. And so, you know, we always say, “Sales is an individual sport.” Right? You’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go out there and get it.

Just like the one-sheeters change, I think your sales approach has got to change too. It takes more support. You’ve got to be able to support your reps, you’ve got to be able to give them the tools that they need, and you’ve got to be able to stand up with them side by side when you’re out there selling and be accountable for the team goal.

George: I remember back about three years ago, David, you said something that had a really huge impact on me as a manager. And I’m not sure that you realize how big of an impact it had. But you said to me one day that one of the things that you have found to be really beneficial for you as a manager is you take about a half a day or three quarters of a day and you step away from the organization and you just dedicate that day to working on the strategy, to digging into the numbers, to figuring out what the next steps are, to building that strategic plan to move the business forward. Now, in your new role, and I know that it’s just been piled onto you, you’ve got this huge title with huge responsibility and a big level of accountability that’s held on those shoulders, are you still able to step away and get that half a day to three-quarters of a day?

David: Yeah. I would say that I still do. And it probably doesn’t happen during the Monday through Friday though. So a lot of the times you have to make, you know, you have to carve a little time out on a weekend or you had to get in the office a little bit earlier.
I don’t get up at 4:00 a.m. like you do George, but sometimes I do get in an hour or two early each day and just kind of review what, you know, I like to be accountable the same way that I like my salespeople to be held accountable. You know, I wanna look and see what did our team do, what did I do yesterday to help drive the business forward? And then put a plan in place for, you know, what are we gonna do the next day? So it’s really, you know, there’s no real secret sauce. It’s really just about holding yourself accountable, holding your teams accountable each day. And it’s got to roll from the top down.

George: Well, I think Grant Cardone calls it a daily battle plan. It’s something that you really need to do. You need to analyze the past, look where you’re going in the future. We’re all trying to stop the flailing. And the other thing that I think is really important is, to not let e-mail or Slack, or whatever communication device you’re using, your text messages, your Facebook Messenger, not letting that become your to-do list. That’s somebody else’s to-do list for you.

Now, let’s talk a little bit about your company and the way that it’s structured and the number of people. I’m really interested to look into that sales organization. And when you share that structure and the team size and that, the other question that I get asked a lot and I’d love to get your feedback on is, how many people can a sales manager effectively manage?

David: Right. So, a couple of years ago, we went through kind of a reorganization when I came on board, where we separated what we call sales and customer care. And understanding in our business own our residential and business services communications that we do have a lot of crossover there, right? So you have people that are taking care of the needs of the customer but that person is also trained to look for the opportunities to help solve problems for that customer which, you know, results in up sales.

So between our customer care and our direct sales group, we’re probably pushing close to 300 plus people who are involved in our sales every day. That’s out of a company of about 1,100 employees currently. When we get down to our call centers, we probably have no more than about 60 people that are working in a call center environment at a time and that breaks down to, I would say probably, about 25 people per supervisor or sales manager, so to speak. And our direct sales channel’s on the outside, that number probably goes anywhere from 15 down to maybe 6 when it comes from a management group managing our direct sales channel.

George: No, I agree with you that you can’t make the teams too big. A team of 10 to 12 is really tough for a manager to manage and give them the support that they’re going to need, especially if you’re layering on new products and solutions that you want them to deliver. And you’re really following a congruity sales process from the gathering of the insights and the research phase to then creating a strategy and setting the cadence around the delivery of proof of performance. And I don’t really care what it is that you’re selling. You do have to have that sales process in place.

One of the questions that I wanna ask all of our guests is, we have a theme here around the Conquer Local Podcast that we’re helping the guy or gal with a bag transition to this new way of selling. There is a massive shift happening around sales transformation. What is some advice, David, that you would give one of those reps that you see that’s still doing the bag thing, and how they could transition into being a true trusted expert?

David: Yes, I would say the first thing, you know, first advice that I would give to a rep is that if you’re still carrying a one-sheeter and you’re still pitching product, then you’re probably about five years behind your top selling competitors in the marketplace. And that your customers also recognize where you’re at in the sales game or where you’re at in the bringing value game. And so first they’ve got to accept where they are and be willing to see changes and opportunity.

So if I’m doing what I’m doing today, carrying my old bag around and my one-sheeter, you know, what’s the opportunity for me and in my sales pipeline if I change my approach and how I’m doing that. You know, I guess I would also say that don’t go in the door expecting to make a sale on the first call today when it comes to digital. There’s just so many different opportunities, so many different services, so many different value points that those different products bring that if you go in today and try to sell somebody something in the digital space today and you haven’t taken the time to sit down and understand their business, understand what they’re trying to accomplish, understand where they’re maybe having struggles, then you’re gonna lose all respect with that customer. They’re gonna see you truly as a pitchman, trying to pitch your product straight out of your bag.

So really looking at, “I’ve got to change my sales cycle. How many times I need to call on the customer? What I do on that first sales call? Am I bringing any value? Am I showing any care for their business or understanding of what they do?” And, you know, those would probably be the top two things that I would say. You’ve got to recognize where you are against your competition and are you willing to make that change? What opportunity will that bring you? And then look at my sales process, look at how I engage with my customer and what do I need to do different if I literally can’t just pull out my product out of a bag and then do a pitch?

George: Well, we’re not selling timeshares here. I went to a timeshare meeting about two years ago on a holiday. I was really excited to go because they have some interesting sales tactics, like, “Maybe there’s something that I could learn here.” What it turned out to be was I learned a whole bunch of things that I never ever want to do in a sales organization. Because it really, what their data has shown them, and you could see this as the 3.5 hours of my life went by that they worked on me trying to get me to say, “Yes,” is that they know that when I leave that chair, the chances of them closing the deal go down dramatically.
The other thing is, they made this huge effort to try and get my partner Nancy there. So they would give us more entries into a draw and they actually gave us even more entries the more credit cards that we brought, because they’re trying to hit that card for the purchase. So interestingly enough, we on the Conquer Local Podcast, are not in the timeshare sales business. Thank goodness. My parents will tell you that that was a horrible experience when they bought their timeshare.

Let’s move on to talk a little bit about your plans for the coming years. I know you have a plan. You’re one of the great planners that I’ve met in my career, David. And I know that Comporium didn’t get to be the company of the size and breadth that it is in its holdings by not having strategic plans in place. What do you have in store for your organization in the next 12 months?

David: Yes, we knew Comporium started on some pretty big strategic initiatives about a year ago. We call it Comporium 2020. Where do we wanna be by 2020? And that includes a lot of things. You know, we’ve got to have the products and services, our network, everything’s got to be in place to support customer growth that we’re looking to drive. One of the things that we also knew was we were not going to be able to raise our sales gain to the new level that we need to be at by 2020 if we did not put in additional sales support, sales training, additional headcount, looking at how our departments are structured. And so we’ve recently just come out of a reorganization where we’ve tried to align our sales groups, and our company really, and how do our customers want to interact with us, how do our customers want to purchase our products and services.

So sales training is gonna be really key for us in Q1 and Q2. We’ve partnered with a local company here out of the Charlotte, North Carolina market. And we were starting a journey of a three-year sales training and process program to whereas not a one and done, right, it’s a methodology. It’s a mindset of how is our organization going to approach our customers, how are we gonna deliver value?

And so for Q1 and Q2 is all about getting that ramped up because we don’t wanna put the cart before the horse. We don’t wanna go out and not follow the correct processes from a sales standpoint. So we’ve gone through what we call a toolkit build. We’ve built that process. We’re implementing it through technology to help our people be able to execute it. And over the next six months, really, we’re gonna refine that and get really well at it. So by 2020, we’re crushing our goals.

George: Well, David, a few months back you and I made our way to the local gym at 5:00 a.m. to do a bit of a workout. I know it’s a big part of your life doing that workout in the morning. A couple of things you may not know about David Little, he is a dead ringer for Brett Farve. And he has been working out like crazy and he looks even more like Mr. Farve today than he ever has.
I want to talk about making sure that you’re at peak performance. Now, you are moving at Mach 8 with your hair on fire and you’re doing a great job running that sales organization. How big of a deal is it for you to get to the gym on a daily basis and to get out and do that run that you do through the beautiful hills of South Carolina?

David: Yes, so, you know, everybody that’s been in business for a while knows that you can get pretty bogged down in your daily routine. And if you’re not prepared mentally and physically, it can be a real challenge in your personal life and in your business life. And I reached that point probably about six months ago. I have always been a runner. But this whole body has worn out over the last 35 years, I can’t run quite as far and fast as I could. And I was not staying in shape as well as I should. And my son, he is majoring in exercise science, wants to be a physical therapist.

And he said, “Pa, we need to get you in the gym. You’ve got to get back into pushing some weights around and doing something other than just the cardio.” So, you know, I figured I need to get something out of that college education I’m paying for. So I jumped on board with him and he’s done a great job, he’s helped me get down about to almost 30 pounds. Built a little muscle tone. I wake up a lot better in the mornings, sleep a lot better at night. It’s changed how productive I think that I’m able to be when I’m focusing on business during the business hours. So far so good. We’ll see if he can keep me motivated.

George: Well, I know that Mr. David Little does not wake up every morning to be number two. There’s only number one for this gentleman. I look forward to seeing you at VendastaCon in a couple of months, my friend. It’s been a pleasure having you on the Conquer Local Podcast. Keep doing what you’re doing.

David: Appreciate it, George. I have enjoyed our time and appreciate what you do, what you do for Comporium, but what you’re doing for sales organizations worldwide. Everybody needs to keep learning, to keep developing and what you’re doing with Conquer Local is just gonna help all of us take it to the next level. Appreciate you.

George: Well, Comporium is a massive organization just located just south of Charlotte and basically it’s all the lines in the ground and it’s all the wireless, and it’s all the cable. And they have a very large management team. And David’s sales team is over 300 people selling everything from phone service, to home security, to digital marketing solutions. He’s one of the guys that I consider to be a sales innovator that I’ve met over the last five and a half years. He’s always on the cutting edge, and hence, his promotion to rise to the ranks of being the Senior Vice President of Enterprise Sales.

It was a real pleasure to have him on the broadcast. As we move forward into future broadcasts, we’re gonna be teaching you about how to conquer local and we will be bringing more people like David Little onto the broadcast that can help validate the things that they’re learning in the field on how to transition their sales organizations.

My name is George Leith. Thanks for joining us this week. I’ll see you when I see you.

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